The East Windsor is one of 32 A&P-owned grocery stores slated for closure by the end of April, according to court documents filed yesterday.
A&P, known formally as the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc., filed chapter 11 documents Tuesday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s Southern District of New York. The company is seeking permission to close the 32 stores, spread out over six states, as part of its restructuring. A&P first filed for bankruptcy under chapter 11 on Dec. 12, 2010.
"As part of our turnaround and our ongoing review of our store footprint, we have decided to close these 32 locations,” A&P President and Chief Executive Officer Sam Martin said in a press release. “While this was a very difficult decision that will unfortunately impact some of our customers, partners, communities and employees, these actions are absolutely necessary as we work to strengthen A&P's operating foundation and improve our performance. We will help our affected colleagues pursue other positions across the company should open positions be available."
Other nearby stores scheduled for closure include Pathmarks in Hillsborough and Bethlehem, Pa. and Super Fresh stores in Hamilton and Yardley, Pa.
The 32 stores were picked because an analysis by A&P deemed them “underperforming,” the court papers said. Under the plan, they would close by April 15 and the premises would be surrendered to landlords by April 30. A&P also said in the filings that it hopes to sell or reject unexpired leases on the physical locations of the stores it plans to close.
The Unified Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union represents a number of the workers affected. The Local 1360 has workers at five stores in the area, including 52 of the employees in the main store in East Windsor, which has about 100 people overall. That chapter does not represent the township store’s meat department.
Chapter President Sam Ferraino said 265 workers will be affected in those five stores. A&P said in the court papers that some employees may be reallocated based on seniority, but Ferraino said he was skeptical that this would mean many people kept their jobs.
“I suspect at the end of the day that the least senior people will probably lose some of those 265 positions because I don't see them all going into the remaining stores,” he said.
Ferraino said the growth of nonunion discount retailers like Wal-Mart and Target have contributed to lower margins at union grocery stores, and he expressed concerns at the ripple effect he said he expected to pass “through the economy and the industry.”
“My worry is that the standard of living, to me, has just been lowered in areas where these stores are closing,” he said. “Our people on the top end make $18 an hour, they don't pay for benefits and they have a pension. A lot of these people will be displaced and will put in now at Wal-Mart or Target, they’ll go from $18 per hour down to $10 per hour, they’ll most likely have to pay for their benefits and they won't have a pension.
“It's a sad day,” Ferraino said.
Local 152 Responds
The UFCW Local 152 represents about 20 employees in the East Windsor store's meat, deli, seafood and bakery departments. Overall, it represents 240 people in those departments at the ten stores it covers that are slated to close. Chapter secretary/treasurer Anthony Benigno said Thursday he thought the closings were the product of nonunion competition and "mismanagement."
"I believe [the increase in big box stores] hasn't helped, the competition, along with some degree of mismanagement," he said. Asked for details, he said, "we believe that the company could've went in a better direction if they were minding the store."
Benigno said he agreed with A&P's assessment of the stores' performance. "The ten they closed were definitely underachieving, and it is part of their restructuring plan to close those stores," he said.
He also said there were was at least one sign that these stores were fated for closure—a lack of needed goods. "We saw it coming just by a lot of the store conditions and [not] having the right merchandise in the store for the consumer," Benigno said. "It's one of telltale signs. They didn't have the proper inventory, or sufficient inventory."
Though some employees will have "bumping rights" through seniority, Benigno said that "absolutely, jobs will be lost. To what degree, we don't know at this time." The chapter is looking to find new, union jobs at other retailers for any employees who lose their jobs at A&P markets, he added. Nearby, the UFCW Local 152 also represents ACME Markets and ShopRite.
"A lot of those stores, they run them well, they look good. They did a great job for a lot of years, but especially the last five years we've seen a decline in their stores," Benigno said of the A&P stores. " It's a shame, it really is."
This article was updated at 3:42 p.m. Feb. 17 with comments from Anthony Benigno.